Forest Adaptation

Forest managers standing in the woods of Northern WI.

What is Adaptation?

Adaptation describes actions that are intended to enhance the ability of ecosystems to adapt to climate change and its effects. In regard to forests, adaptation includes a wide variety of actions that complement the sustainable management, conservation, and restoration of forests and help to maintain ecosystem integrity and environmental benefits.

Adaptation actions can be used to reduce risks including loss of forest cover, declines in forest productivity, alterations to ecosystem processes, reductions in the environmental benefits that forests provide to people (such as wildlife, recreation, and wood products), and many other potential impacts on forests.

There are three broad options for responding to climate change:

  • Resistance actions improve the defenses of the forest against anticipated changes or directly defend the forest against disturbance in order to maintain relatively unchanged conditions.
  • Resilience actions accommodate some degree of change, but encourages a return to prior conditions after a disturbance, either naturally or through management.
  • Transition, or response actions intentionally accommodate change and enable ecosystems to adaptively respond to changing and new conditions. The intention is to better align ecosystems with future conditions, rather than be caught off-guard by rapid and catastrophic changes.

Learn more about options for land management in a changing climate through the Climate Change Resource Center.


Adaptation in Action

The broad adaptation options described above are incredibly useful when conceptualizing a management trajectory to respond to climate change risks. At the same time, it may be unclear how to implement these broad ideas into concrete management actions. Forest Adaptation Resources: Climate Change Tools and Approaches for Land Managers (FAR) provides multiple resources to help managers integrate climate change information into forest management planning and decision-making. The FAR document contains a menu climate change adaptation approaches applicable to forests in the Midwest and Northeast; and an adaptation workbook to integrate climate change into management. The workbook provides a platform for managers to step through the process of considering climate change at the scale of their management, and to ultimately identify adaptation actions for making forests better able to cope with climate change impacts. 

Numerous adaptation demonstration projects have been developed using the FAR on public, private, and tribal lands through the NIACS Climate Change Response Framework. These demonstrations provide real-world examples of how climate change information can be used to identify actions to help adapt forests while meeting diverse management objectives.

Other examples of adaptation actions have also been compiled by Natural Resources Canada and Adaptation Partners.